As a picturesque backdrop to the fall family photo taken on Freshman Move-In Day to the Harvard University campus, it may be hard to imagine a better candidate than the articulated red brick façade of Mathews Hall.
The multi-gabled mass of this towering masonry dormitory rises high above the eastern edge of Old Harvard Yard, just a moment’s walk from bustling Harvard Square. It is a stunning composition of ruddy red brick detailing, pale sandstone banding and steeply pitched slated roof pinnacles. Meeting the leafy green of the Yard’s lawns are several gazebo-like entry porticos on both the long east and west elevations. The structure’s deep red tones provide a striking counterpoint to the Yard’s many stately oaks and elms. At a full five stories, Mathews Hall serves as one of the University’s 17 different freshman dormitories ringing Harvard Yard.
Completed by 1871 or 1872, at a cost of over $110,000 — a gift of Nathan Mathews of Boston — Mathews Hall bears a Gothic Victorian architectural styling common to its day. A massive brick fire wall splits the long structure into two mirrored halves, each containing a similar number and arrangement of student suites.
In 2009, classes in “The Archaeology of Harvard Yard” conducted a dig in the Yard in front of Mathews Hall, unearthing remnants of two former Harvard structures: the brick Indian College, which stood from 1655 through 1698 near the southern end of Mathews Hall, and the wooden Old College, which survived from 1638 to 1679. Mathews Hall bears a plaque testifying to the university Charter of 1650, which then called for the joint “education of English and Indian youth of this Country in knowledge and godliness”. Graduating from the Indian College as a member of the Class of 1655 was Caleb Cheeshahteamuck, an Aquinnah Wampanoag Native American. It is quite likely that the former Indian College also gave the young colonies the second edition of the Indian Bible.
Famous first-year residents of Mathews Hall have included, among others, Barney Frank, Michael Chertoff, Robert Rubin, Charles Schumer and William Randolph Hearst.